Socialists have always been at the forefront of the fight against antisemitism. A quick look back at history proves this — socialist organisation was central to opposing Bristish fascist Oswald Mosley in the 1930s, against the rise of Hitler in Germany and against the National Front in the 1970s.
Much more recently, it was socialists who were quick to react to and oppose the offensive Holocaust denial leaflets that appeared around several British universities earlier this year. If we are to build a better world, we can not allow bigotry or prejudice to divide us. This is why one of the main slogans from last month’s Stand Up to Racism march was “No to antisemitism”. This makes it ironic, not to mention shameful, that antisemitism has been a charge levelled at the left in recent months. Specifically it has been used to smear supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.
This sleight of hand is achieved through conflating criticism of the principles of the Israeli state with criticism of the Jewish people. While Zionists may try to claim that this is one and the same thing, Jewish socialists and others are loud and clear in maintaining that this is certainly not the case.
This book by Israeli writer Ofra Yeshua-Lyth powerfully backs up this argument. She uses personal memoirs from her Yemeni Jewish family background to support her opinion that Israel is far from the “Jewish democratic state” that it likes to portray. Not only do Israeli authorities practise brutal racism against those non-Jews (particularly Palestinians) who were displaced from their land to make way for the Zionist state, but there is a strict hierarchy among Jewish citizens of the country.
The stranglehold over the country held by the orthodox Jewish establishment is illustrated with examples from birth to death — all-important life events are controlled by a small Israeli elite, mostly with Eastern European roots. Examples given include the way children are brought up, marriage ceremonies, education, women’s rights, the use of technology and even death.
There is a touching section on the failed attempts by the writer’s family to get her grandmother a secular funeral and an alarming story of how, as a child riding behind her father on his bicycle on Yom Kippur, they both narrowly avoided being stoned by vigilantes, angry with them for using “transport” on the religious holiday.
The author tells of how the egalitarian and even socialist ideals of many of the founders of Israel have been warped and twisted by the current state and its insistence on upholding ethnic and religious self-segregation. She argues that the political entity thus created has an alarming emphasis on Jewish supremacy, with Israeli citizens branded according to their ethnicity and religion. Far from being a homeland, safe from the appalling persecution epitomised by the horrors of the Holocaust, Israel is in fact the most dangerous place for Jews to live.
Yeshua-Lyth’s conclusion from what she has experienced in Israel is that a two state solution is not viable. She has become an optimistic supporter of the small but growing movement for the creation of one secular and democratic state in Palestine. This book is not a road map to end at this destination, but a powerful collection of arguments and anecdotes as to why criticism of Israel is far from antisemitism.